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HMHI Expert Spotlight: Clinical Researcher Chandni Sheth, PhD, Uses Neuroimaging to Study Psychiatric Illnesses


Chandi Sheth

Chandni Sheth, PhD, is a research assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Utah’s Huntsman Mental Health Institute. Sheth started her academic career working towards a Bachelor’s in Pharmacy degree, completed her degree and then came to the realization that she wanted to pursue a career in research. After relocating to Utah, she now spends her days studying the brain and psychiatric illnesses. Follow along as she walks us through her day, discusses what inspired her to follow this career path and the most challenging parts of being a researcher.

Q: What inspired you to become a researcher?

My basic training is as a pharmacist. I was always certain after getting my Bachelor’s in Pharmacy degree that I wanted to pursue a career in research. When I arrived at the University of Utah to pursue my PhD in Pharmacology and Toxicology, I became increasingly passionate about studying the brain and how neural mechanisms go awry in psychiatric illnesses. It was the complexity of the brain that piqued my interest in studying the brain, and almost a decade later, I am still fascinated by how complex the brain is and how little we know about it. I have always believed that research is all about asking clinically focused questions that will help guide clinical practice and benefit the patient eventually. Impacting lives of patients with mental illnesses through novel discoveries and innovations is what inspires me.

Q: What is your area of specialization and why?

I am conducting clinical research using in vivo neuroimaging techniques such as magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to investigate neurochemical correlates of psychiatric illnesses with a focus on identifying novel targets for therapeutic intervention for several psychopathologies. I have been primarily interested in mood disorders, post-traumatic disorder (PTSD), as well as traumatic brain injury (TBI) and chronic pain. I also have a long-vested interest in exploring neuroinflammation as a potential pathophysiological mechanism underlying psychiatric illnesses.

"Impacting lives of patients with mental illnesses through novel discoveries and innovations is what inspires me."

Q: What does a typical day look like for you?

Every day is somewhat different. Most days, I spend a significant amount of time on data analysis, drafting manuscripts, preparing abstracts/posters and talks for national and international scientific conferences, and putting together grant applications. I also actively interact with participants in clinical research studies and clinical trials while performing several cognitive and behavioral assessments, as well as performing MRI scan acquisitions. I am passionate about addressing issues of diversity and inclusion (or lack thereof) in science and I am a part of workgroups that promote principles of ethical conduct of research to prevent further stigmatization, marginalization, and injustice toward individuals because of racial, ethnic, or gender minority status.

Q: What are the most challenging aspects of your role?

The most challenging part of being a researcher for me has been the length of time it takes to translate research findings in a meaningful way into the clinic so that it can make a positive impact on patient lives. On some days, I do feel that I am not doing enough to make a real difference.

Q: What is the most interesting and/or rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding aspect of my job has been the potential to do cutting-edge research and the ability to have scientific exchange with pioneers in the field. I feel like I learn something new every day.Q: What do you like to do when you are not at work?

I love the mountains and consider myself lucky to be living in Salt Lake City, where the canyons are just a short car ride from the city. I try to hit hiking trails during the summer and fall. I also enjoy practicing yoga and going for meditation retreats to unwind.

Q: Why did you decide to come to Utah?

I was born and raised in Mumbai, India. I moved to Utah for graduate school in 2011, and have been here ever since. The work culture, vision, and values that the University of Utah strives toward resonate with my career focus and goals.